Jason Burnett — The John Yoo Of The EPA — Steps Down [UPDATED]

UPDATE 7/21: Since the publication of this post in May, Jason Burnett has been deposed by Rep. Waxman’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, been interviewed by Markey’s House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, and corresponded with Sen. Boxer’s Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works. He will publicly testify before Boxer’s committee on July 22. As reported in the Wonk Room, his interviews with investigators and the press have revealed that he stepped down in 2006 following the White House’s overriding of recommended soot standards, and he similarly stepped down this year because of White House interference with EPA’s planned global warming regulations. If there are comparisons to be made to the U.S. attorneys scandal, Burnett is now playing a role analogous to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, who resigned after coming into conflict with the White House, or U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, who has become a public critic of the White House’s interference of the Justice Department.

Yesterday, John Yoo agreed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee about the Bush Administration’s torture and interrogation practices. Yoo is the former Deputy Assistant Attorney General responsible for a series of controversial legal decisions, most famously the “torture memo” that argued physical torture “must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” Yoo stepped down after President Bush’s first term.

Yesterday, Associate Deputy Administrator Jason Burnett of the Environmental Protection Agency announced his departure from the EPA. Like John Yoo, the 31-year-old Jason Burnett is the author and advocate of a series of legal arguments that subvert the very purpose of his agency.

Burnett’s shameful record includes:

Promoting arsenic in drinking water. Working with American Enterprise Institute scholar Robert Hahn in 2000 and 2001, Burnett wrote a series of papers arguing that the Environmental Protection Agency should let economic costs trump scientific recommendations when setting regulatory health standards. Burnett argued that an arsenic standard proposed in the waning days of the Clinton Administration “cannot be justified on economic grounds.” The Bush administration eventually adopted the Clinton standard after outcry followed its original announcement to abandon it.

The “Queen of Hearts” mercury regulations. Working in the EPA Office of Air and Radiation from 2004 to 2006, Burnett authored the industry-friendly mercury regulations that were rejected by a federal appeals court in 2008. In its decision, the court said the EPA’s “explanation deploys the logic of the Queen of Hearts, substituting EPA’s desires for the plain text” of the Clean Air Act.

Overruling soot health standards at behest of industry. Fine particle matter — soot — kills more people than any other form of air pollution. On July 12, 2006, Johnson, Burnett, and two other EPA officials met with 15 top industry lobbyists. Two months later, Administrator Johnson issued a standard forty percent above the recommendation of staff scientists, the independent Clean Air Scientific Advisory Council, and the American Medical Association, leaving 77 million Americans at medical risk.

Climate contempt. Following the Supreme Court mandate to take action on global warming pollution, Jason Burnett “worked on EPA’s controversial decision to deny a California petition seeking to regulate cars and trucks for climate change.” S. William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, described the decision as “legally and technically unjustified and indefensible.”

Darren Samuelson, who broke the story of Burnett’s resignation on E&E; News (sub. req’d), interviewed Burnett on how he perceives his global warming legacy:

“I have confidence future administrations will be able to make more informed decisions” based on the work EPA is currently doing on the issue, he said.

UPDATE 6/25: From the New York Times:

White House pressure to ignore or edit the E.P.A.’s climate-change findings led to the resignation of one agency official earlier this month: Jason Burnett, the associate deputy administrator. Mr. Burnett, a political appointee with broad authority over climate-change regulations, said in an interview that he had resigned because “no more constructive work could be done” on the agency’s response to the Supreme Court.

He added, “The next administration will have to face what this one did not.”

UPDATE 7/9: Burnett, a “grandson of high-tech entrepreneur David Packard” and a member of the Packard Foundation’s board of trustees, has told reporters he resigned in 2006 “because of objections” to the EPA soot ruling.


As the Wonk Room has reported, Burnett refused to retract the EPA email that “concluded that climate change endangers the public” when the White House demanded he do so. Furthermore, in a letter responding to questions from Sen. Barbara Boxer, Burnett implicated the Office of the Vice President, Dick Cheney, as well as the White House Council on Environmental Quality for censoring “any discussion of the human health consequences of climate change” in testimony to Congress. Boxer has called Burnett to testify before her committee on July 22.